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Data Miners

Sophisticated new sales tools and technologies designed to give ad-sales teams an edge in an intensely competitive market are redefining stations’ traditional ad-sales strategies.

Ad executives can get information about available time more easily than ever (see page 21). And other software floods them with deep data, psychographics, purchasing behavior and other key selling tools.

The timing couldn’t be better, according to a recent report by Kagan Research. It says the cable-advertising market in particular is “more chaotic than it has been since 2001” while looking for “deeper demographic data on viewership.”

Help is on the way. “The industry looks for sustainable business models, and they want more information about what happens when viewing activity takes place,” says Cathy Hetzel, senior VP at Rentrak Corp., whose AdEssential Traker module measures in detail advertising usage by consumers.

“All of our clients have their own particular needs and unique targets, so we use dozens of databases for psychographics, behavior and demographics, and research technologies such as Nielsen’s Strata and others, along with Web-based applications to pull down additional data. The ad-sales teams now have lots of tools,” says Jonathan Sims, VP of research for Comcast Spotlight, the ad-sales division of Comcast Cable.

Among several other tools, Comcast uses the SRC Mapping System to pull together groups of databases, allowing sales execs instant access to crucial intelligence. “It can show how many car dealers are moving in similar zones, along with lifestyle demographics, census data and more,” Sims says. “It’s very sophisticated.”

Advanced sales tools are entering the market in record numbers. OneDomain Inc.’s ClearView product, for instance, allows ad-sales teams to run a networked environment from a single workstation, with the ability to data base all research data.

“Ad-sales execs have the ability to capture and manipulate data and get proposal-to-order quickly, while the data is harvested automatically from the system. It clears up the process electronically and removes 30%-40% of the drudge work for the AE,” explains Greg Calhoun, VP of marketing for OneDomain.

Marketron International’s new Research On Demand service allows ad-sales teams at each local TV station to find new materials and data, such as competitive spending by category, and aggregates data and intelligence from several sources housed on a centralized hosted platform.

“It allows people on the street to optimize programming information and broadcasters to tap into the system via the Internet,” says Marketron CEO Mike Jackson. “The TV-ad-sales function is moving the industry to electronic platforms and to metered technologies. That will allow access to more information quicker.”

And speed counts, particularly for fledgling networks such as AT&T’s U-verse, an IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) network that recently launched in San Antonio as the next generation of Project Lightspeed and constitutes the so-called Baby Bells’ initial play in the video market.

Just how to sell advertising over a new network, such as IPTV, is U-verse’s first step before sophisticated ad-sales tools can be implemented. “How can we show the power of interactive TV to advertisers?” asks Karl Spangenberg, VP of integration advertising for AT&T Entertainment Services.

He answers his owns question: “We can offer advertisers the addressability and sights and sounds of TV, but it’s hard for them to grasp the concept. Agencies will adjust and understand that two homes in the same neighborhood watching the same program can be targeted with two separate ads, and a button can be pushed to view telescope ads. Our challenge is how to price it, because these models are very new and complex.”

Service provider SureWest Communications, which supplies quadruple-play services in Sacramento, Calif., offers such ad-sales tools as Ad Mall, Showseekers and others, yet its strategy is to take advantage of its future as a provider of video, voice, data and wireless services.

“We have to get all of the other services involved in the sales effort and explore the opportunities of advertising with VOD service,” maintains Haavard Sterri, director of marketing and product management for SureWest. “With our IP platform, it’s easy to link computers and TVs, so our ad sales can be approached from several angles. But there’s lots of work to do.”

Much of that work will be focused on dealing with Internet advertising, which can provide instantaneous feedback and results of site visits, a distinct advantage over slower-to-respond TV-data-gathering methodologies.

Say Jackson, “The biggest challenge for TV-ad sales is how to compete in the new world of Internet advertising and provide instant results. We have to do the same thing for broadcast and the cable industries. There’s been tremendous movement in the past few years, but we must move faster.”